G&S Discography: The Digital Era
Ohio Light Opera, based at The College of Wooster, Ohio, has performed an annual season of light opera (mostly G&S) since 1979. In recent years the company has published several operettas on CD, including Princess ida in 2000, Utopia, Limited in 2001, both Grand Duke and Yeomen in 2003, Sorcerer in 2005, Gondoliers in 2007, Mikado in 2008, and Ruddigore in 2009. All of their recordings were based on live productions and include the dialogue.
Reviews of the recordings have been mixed. Orchestral playing and musicianship are generally strong, and it is gratifying to have professional recordings with dialogue. But the performers are Americans, and some listeners find their accents grating, particularly in the dialogue. OLO's Grand Duke recording was marred by disfiguring and unnecessarily excessive cuts.
Florida-based C&B Productions launched a series aiming to present the operas as close as possible to their first-night versions, with complete dialogue. The first entry in the series was Cox and Box (1994). Unlike the two D'Oyly Carte recordings, it is of the entire opera (which runs about an hour), not the abridgement that D'Oyly Carte used as a curtain-raiser. The recording features amateur singers and a small chamber orchestra. C&B's second recording was The Mikado (1995). It presents as close as one can come to a first-night version, has full orchestra, and is the only Mikado on records to include all the dialogue. Regrettably, the series did not continue.
In the mid-1980s, the English National Opera mounted a controversial production of The Mikado directed by Jonathan Miller, with the action of the story moved to an English seaside hotel in the 1920s. What this had to do with Gilbert and Sullivan's opera is beyond me, but the production was notable for the casting of former Monty Pythoner Eric Idle as Ko-Ko. The production achieved enough success to be revived in later seasons with Dudley Moore and Richard Suart, among others, replacing Idle. Excerpts of the ENO Mikado were issued on a single LP/cassette, and later issued on CD. The primary attraction is Idle's rewriting of the list song.
Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields recorded a Yeomen in 1993 following the Sargent tradition of casting opera singers in the principal parts. The twist here was the inclusion of an abridged version of the dialogue, the only Yeomen recording to do so. It is a strong recording, and it makes one hope that Sir Neville will do more G&S.
The Savoy Operas are apparently quite popular in Australia, but hardly any G&S recordings from that country have been published. A 1994 Pirates, from Queensland-based Essgee Entertainment, may well be the first, appearing on both CD and video. It is smilar to, and perhaps even an improvement on, the Papp production. The same group produced Mikado and Pinafore, but these are available only on video. See the Essgee page for more details.
In 1995, First Night published an original cast recording of The Hot Mikado. It is enjoyable, provided you can suspend your memory of how the opera has traditionally been done.